- If you smell smoke, leave the area. Don’t listen to people telling you you’ll be all right. Just go.
- As hard as it might be, remain calm.
- Hold your breath as long as you can. Trust me, trying to inhale smoke is worse than not breathing it in.
- Follow a group. If you get separated, make sure your voice is heard. When the smoke gets thick enough, you can’t see anything.
- Help others.
- Walk quickly. Don’t run. If you run, your breathing will worsen when you get into fresh air. You don’t want to be gasping for breath while you are trying to get rid of the smoke.
- When you get out, get your mouth, nose and throat checked by a doctor or ambulance. Make it known you may have inhaled smoke.
When I was in middle school and high school, I loved poetry. I loved rhyme and rhythm, melody and verse. I enjoyed writing about love and friendships, with humor and bite. I wrote with literary themes. I was Dante and Edna. I pulled inspiration from textbooks and television and telephone calls. High school bred angst and first kisses; middle school, first crushes and a tendency to blush when I talked (I might still do that). It was a time of poetry innocence. Then some of the themes became dark, some dark and hopeful. I was asked to speak at funerals for family members, a poem for each. I wrote about Heaven and memories and loss. But writing that poetry was difficult. My poetic innocence fell away in pieces the size of ash, slow and fiery, with every reading. In college, my poetry had an edge and was marked by an apparent loss of youth. I chose subject matter plagued by grosser imagery. I wrote about bruises and cannibalism and sex and cigarettes. My collection of love poems stagnated. Lately, though, I’m trying to reconnect with a younger me. It presents a challenge, but I truly miss the love.
I’m including some poetry below from my first years of high school and from my undergraduate collection.
Note: Please excuse the lack of punctuation on some of these; I was young.
Poems I wrote when I was 15 years old:
Walk by Alexa L., written February 9, 2003
I know it’s been a while
Since I first walked into your life
But my shoes are weary
My laces ache with pain
And I find my feet can’t stand
My soul guides me
But my sole is worn
My knees are weak
And I have trouble keeping straight
My step crosses and I descend
At the sight of you
And my heels are gaining lift
While my toes stick softly
To the pavement that grows equal in strength
To my heart
Trying in passionate steps
To stay parallel to the ground
I fall and drift
My feet lifting from under me
And the pavement’s open arms
Guide me to him
Until I can walk
Into his life again
Please Realize This by Alexa L., written November 2, 2003
I think you are a bit mistaken
My friend, I think you’ve lost your mind
Your sanity seems to be taken
To places I have yet to find
You think you love this precious child
My friend, she’s quite out of your range
And though you think she drives you wild
You’re acting just a bit too strange
It’s awful how you look at her
My friend, her looks take form of scorn
You think she’s being nice for sure
But you’re blowing on a muted horn
You really should give up on this
My friend, you’ll cause yourself dismay
You’ll never get true love’s first kiss
If you keep acting quite this way
Can’t you see she’s just a snot?
My friend, her nose hangs in the air
But all you think is that “she’s hot”
In reality there’s nothing there.
I love how things float past your head
My friend, she just laughed in your face
But yet you look past that instead
And try to find what’s empty space.
You are the sweetest one I know
My friend, this girl is dumb of sweet
And yet to her you always go
You tread behind her very feet
This girl is nothing but a blimp
My friend, her brain is helium
I’ve never seen you act a wimp
Consequence of delirium
Don’t you get this girl is wrong
My friend, there’s others, can’t you see?
I’ve been waiting for so long
Why can’t you find that love in me?
I confess, the need does burn
My friend, I love you just so much
I wanted love in true return
There seems to be no chance of such
My friend, this girl is not your style
My friend, the love will always grow
My friend, I loved you for a while
My friend, I was too scared to show.
My love, please understand my view
My love, I will not guide your heart
My love, I am in love with you
My love, I’ve loved you from the start.
A poem I wrote when I was 16 years old:
Invisible Man: A Poem by Alexa L., written August 27, 2004
I made an attempt to look the other way,
But I was forced back into my line of sight.
I could not speak, only seeing nothing
With my head turned down into my inner fight.
I reach across my chest to grab at something,
But nothing was still stopping me from that,
And I was caught without a way to argue
Against my forced down head from where it sat
The outside tried to force my head again now
To be looking up into a blinding light,
But I still tried to look inside my values
Since I saw that something was against my right.
So I pushed left while falling into circles
And my eyes received a final desperate blow,
For nothing was stopping me from something;
Apparently, the thing I did not know
It’s all right to say I never did learn something,
But the truth is always found beneath a lie.
So I closed my eyes and looked inside for guidance,
But the voice that flowed through all of me was dry.
With every turn into a wrong direction
I had chosen every path that could be wrong,
Away from what I prayed would lift my head up
Into places where I would be sleeping long.
But the fear of sleep and blindness was not tempting.
I was not to be afraid of what I thought
For every time I closed my eyes, I faltered
Thinking every time I spoke I never fought.
So finally in efforts to be human,
And to break the chains of what I could not see,
I chose to go into the dark for clarity
Of finding the identity of me.
Poems I wrote when I was 19 years old:
Flight Seven Thirty-One (sonnet assignment), by Alexa L., written March 26, 2007
Flight seven thirty-one had left the gate
and pleaded with the wind to let it rise,
but did not move at my required rate
(Not something I would often criticize).
But Grandma was a place I wished to be,
a destination from my very birth.
But clouds had covered all there was to see—
white coffin for the burial of Earth.
I prayed my destination would be well,
with all its streets and people in their place.
But if I found that all had become hell,
I don’t know if it’s something I could face.
So here I sit thousands of miles high,
discussing deaths of cities with the sky.
Flight Seven Thirty-One (sonnet revision assignment), by Alexa L., written April 18, 2007
I looked, but did not really look
at the city below me,
while flight 731
ascended the steps of the sky.
Clouds formed a coffin,
that buried the Earth,
and I could not see through
I closed my eyes, and leaned
my head into the window. My cheek
molded into the plastic casement,
so all that could be seen from those
thousands of feet,
was the paleness of my skin.
When I would reach my destination,
to see Grandma,
I would tell her how the birds
laughed at the pallor of
my flattened face.
I would tell her that the clouds
looked like elephants, and as the night
crept into the pink and purple hues of sundown,
they made the sky into a star-lined rainbow.
And she would smile.
The airport was cold, the walls
white. But not white
like the clouds.
My father waited to pick me
up, but could not suppress the hurt
that reddened his eyes and made crying
seem harder than learning
I wanted to go back to the plane
to go anywhere but Grandma’s house.
Because if I was on the plane,
she would still be alright,
would still want to hear about
elephants and honey-roasted peanuts.
But I felt my eyes get red too,
and sank to the corner to face
Grandma’s house was separated
by labels with printed names of who
My name was everywhere.
Her scent was everywhere.
A collection of elephants was torn
apart and spread
across the country,
from California to Maryland.
Elephants with trunks facing skyward
meant good luck.
Why didn’t I feel
My name was on three
elephants so far,
raising their trunks toward
Heaven; with their destination,
IV. Boarding Pass
Numbers took their respective
place upon the paper rectangle
that would decide my
But I was not destined to crash,
burn, or die.
just check the numbers.
In high school, we were required to read an essay by Pico Iyer titled “In Praise of the Humble Comma.” I am in grad school now, and yet I still can’t forget the name. Iyer stated, “The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said—could it not?—of the humble comma.” I am no punctuation buff, but I think punctuation, for writers, can be an attempt at risk. A chance to stab a sentence with a comma and pray the essay does not come out bloody—it can be invigorating. A rush.
Punctuation lacks attention in a text-driven society. We punctuate with emoticons. What could once have been said with a semicolon is now said with a smiley. No “I love you, darlings”; simply a wink or a small yellow face with accentuated lips and batted eyelashes (If a picture is worth a thousand words, what the hell happened to the words?). Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the advent of social media networks like Twitter and Facebook; I believe these platforms have opened up new methods for conversation, and are instilling a new genre of writers for an evolving generation. What I don’t understand is why punctuation has devolved so drastically. There is a whole other conversation about the loss of proper grammar, spelling, language. In some of my publishing classes, students argue that as long as the message gets across, as long as people are writing, then short-form media is a wonderful tool. But for me, the problem begins in the loss of punctuation to save space.
In undergrad, I studied creative writing and worked at the writing center and copy edited for a mom’s magazine. What I learned: college students and mothers still don’t know how to use punctuation, if they use it at all. I have my share of mistakes, especially with humble commas, but I know the basics and the errors (I still don’t really know how to use a comma in every situation; even the Chicago Manual of Style is confused about the process). Comma splices would make my copy editing professor cringe. And periods? Some students didn’t use them. Workshop after workshop. Dependent clauses. That and which. Missing commas. And this is just for English. Spanish pronunciation is defined by its accent mark.
For reading or performing Shakespeare, punctuation is vital for emotion. In my senior year of high school, my teacher asked us to memorize part of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy—with the punctuation. So this: “To be or not to be—that is the question:/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And, by opposing, end them.” would read as this: “To be or not to be dash that is the question colon/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune comma/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And comma by opposing comma end then period“. Speaking the punctuation made us notice the intentional pauses, the lengths of breaths, the dash, pregnant with the thought of existence.
So my advice for staying properly punctuated? Listen to Iyer. The humble comma gives breath and takes it away. Read aloud. If you stop, the sentence stops; you’ll notice the distinction.
Note: Today is the the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A pause, a dash, a moment of silence.
So my friend Amanda and I have started attending these inspirational lunches. When I say attend, what I mean is that we bring our lunches out to the Common and read to each other. We bring old poetry and new. I sing to her. Another friend tells us the story of an aggressive duck through interpretive dance. We laugh. I smile. We come up with “assignments.”
Ideas for inspirational lunch members or lunchers, as I will call them for now:
- Make up a line of poetry for a luncher; they then have to use it as the first line in their poem
- Write a response poem or song to an original piece from a fellow luncher.
- Pick a form or type of poetry and bring in a new piece the following week in that form.
- Make a list of subjects you’ve never written about, but wanted to; then write a poem using the top three topics.
- Pick a favorite poem (original or famous) and rewrite it.
- Pick a poem from childhood and rewrite it.
- Write a poem about a dream.
- Pick a color and try to express that color in a poem without using the color itself.
- Write a slam poem.
- Write a haiku, then create a longer poem from that same haiku.
- Use a photograph for inspiration.
- Open a dictionary and flip through it, choosing ten words at random. Use those ten words in a poem.
- Give a luncher a controversial topic to write about.
- Pick a news story and write a poem inspired by the headline (or use the headline as a first line).
There are hundreds, nay, thousands of ideas out there. Probably infinite, though in calculus I usually ended up approaching zero (no matter how hard I tried for the alternative). But the ideas for ideas are not really the point of these lunches. These lunches are meant to keep us writing, to snap us out of the creative funk we’re facing in the wake of finals and futures. If Amanda is anything like me, she needs to write to stay grounded. I outsource my stresses to my song lyrics. They keep me sane. And when the lyrics stop flowing, when the creative well has dried up, all that’s left is a publishing student with an empty journal and an empty heart. Just recently, I was able to transfer files from an old laptop onto my new one. What I realized in this transfer is that I was a firecracker with words when I was 11, but now? I lack opinion. I lack stance. These inspirational lunches are my way back to finding my voice, to finding me
- Choose a competitor. Pick a person in your class whose quality of work surpasses your own and then consistently try to outshine him. It can be a friend or an enemy; this doesn’t matter. It just makes you competitive, and keeps you attentive.
- Create a rewards system. For example, if I get straight A’s this semester I can buy myself the new phone I want.
- Set aside homework time. If you are watching a television show, use the commercials to do part of your assignment.
- Mix homework with chores. If you’re already doing the dirty work, just balance it out. While you’re waiting for a load to finish, do the homework. Folding clothes ends up being a pretty amazing break from studying.
- Invent time goals. Give yourself a time to finish your assignment by, sort of like a due date, but on your terms. If you don’t finish it when you said you would, you don’t go do the next thing on your list (like going to a movie).
- Write your goal on a mirror. If you have a dry erase marker, they work just as well on bathroom mirrors. Put your to-do list or goals on the side of it. Basically, every time you go to brush your teeth or fix your hair you’ll be reminded of what you have to do to succeed.
- Study with a friend who is motivated. Find a person you know can focus, and follow their lead.
“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sleepless in Boston
I turn the heat on; vents hum to life. I wrap my legs around my covers, thrust my head into my pillow. I toss, turn; lie on my back, then my side. I glance at the clock: 6 a.m. Shit, not again. Tears. Lyrics. Sunshine peers through the slits of the blinds. I close my eyes, rest my head back to the pillow and finally, my eyelids stumble, drunk from lack of sleep.
Saturday morning, April 10: I could not sleep the night before. Bad news at bedtime; stress before sleep. Nothing new, nothing unexpected. I wrote part of a song. Inspired by a friend’s poem, inspired by life. I walk to the station. A windy day, wind so cold it makes my face hurt.
Sunday morning: It is 2 or 3 a.m. and something is happening somewhere else that breaks my heart. It is 4 or 5 a.m. A phone call. Another night I cannot sleep.
Sunday night: I think about my weekend, the good parts: the French, a clumsy Wolverine, a night with friends and artists, secret codes in Chinatown, rum cake, earrings, signatures, costumes, kind words, pictures, Montreal and beer. I smile. I fall asleep before midnight.
On the subject of dreams…
Having been unintentionally sleep deprived this weekend, I realize that I didn’t dream. So in honor of the cheesy romance associated with dreaming, I am including lyrics below that I had written in my last year of undergraduate. Quick warning: I was feeling romantic when I wrote this. The bed in this song is associated with my dorm beds; I used to jump from the top because they were lifted about four feet off the ground to create storage space.
lyrics by Alexa L., 2008
She sits upon the bed and stares straight down at you
She stares straight down and through you, babe
and cries her eyes out while she tries to speak
And teary-eyed, she blinks a bit of sympathy
but don’t be fooled, you know that she
was trying hard to say:
“Help me be the girl of your dreams
I’m making it easy, so please be good to me
I know, perfection’s in theory
But I’m making it easy, just tell me what you need.”
You stop her for a moment and gaze up at her
You gaze right up and into her
You tell her that she’s beautiful even when she sits there cryin’
You watch her as she rises from her bed,
should be within your arms instead
But she listens as you tell her, tell her, tell her
“Sweet love, you’re the girl of my dreams
You’re not making it easy
to ever let you leave
I know, perfection is hard for me
but you make it look easy
You’re everything I need”
So they moved a little closer and he stretched his hand to her
He stretched his hand to help her down
like Rapunzel and her hair
And she knew that he’d always stretch his hand to her
Be everything and all to her
He wasn’t going anywhere.
Sweet love, I’m the girl of your dreams
You’re not making it easy
to ever want to leave
I know, perfection’s in theory
but I love you completely
You’re everything I need.
I feel a little lost, a little little, like a plastic army man or a bee. I whisper “shit” under my breath, grip my umbrella like a life preserver and dive, head first, into wet. It is then my umbrella snaps backward, shifting violently with the wind. I just want to catch the damn bus; I think this while I snatch the edge of my umbrella with my open hand and tug. The wind whips at my cheeks. Cars honk. I cross. The bus zooms into nowhere. For a moment, just a moment, I am absolutely pissed at the world. Ten minutes pass. I find sanctuary in a bus seat caked with gum.
Rainy days in Boston are unusually gloomy. Here, if it’s raining, it’s probably cold. And if it’s not cold, well, it’s definitely not sunny. Today, it is cold and it is raining. And if you look out your window and see gray, my advice: check the weather forecast. Boston weather is fickle. Gray skies may imply a chill, but it is not always so; it can be gray and it can be hot.
No rain boots today. The wind is bearable. I walk out the door in jeans, a tee, a sweater, and my temperamental black umbrella that I fixed a few days prior. I pray the rain and wind stay light.
On rainy days like this, I feel 12. The world is a scary place, unpredictable and often sad. I recollect the books I read when I was young, the poetry that weathered hurricanes, family deaths, and a move that spanned almost 1500 miles. The poem below is one my grandmother, Elayne, often read to me before bed.
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Words of the Week (to be attempted at least once today in conversation)
Here’s the rub: I have this accent. Granted, I’m not Scottish, nor does it really sound like a Scottish accent, really. But I have it, and it’s mine, and it has been evolving since its first use about ten years ago at Universal Studios. Basically, I spent an entire day with my mom as her Irish daughter and got away with it. Then in the last few years, I noticed the accent crossed countries and molded into this Scottish thing.
So with my new-found Scottish appeal, I joined my mother and her friend at SeaWorld about a year ago and she asked me to put on the voice for the day. After several awkward phone calls, a whale, a fake Scottish father, and 50,376 fish; my mother’s friend, let’s call her Maureen, believed the whole ridiculous story.
This potential believability is why I still enjoy having days where I can pretend to be from somewhere else besides Florida. Problem is, some people think it’s awfully strange; I just think it’s a little risky, a wee bit fun, and a way to live another life if just a moment.
And for those of you who are willing to attempt this feat in a more acceptable setting…
Accents (or voices) to use while intoxicated:
British (and Cockney)*
California surfer-speak (it’s rad, dude)**
Whale (“You know, I speak whale”)*
Jamaican (also known as the Ms. Cleo)*
*attempted, slightly successfully
**tried, but failed
This, of course, is a limited list. Please feel free to share your own.
Warning/prayer: please avoid being offensive. Imitate with taste.
I moved to Boston from Miami. Long trip. Hours spent staring at fingernails, shoes, ceilings. I meet some people, I dine with the deaf, I gaze out windows at starless nights and trees that look like wooden witches, elongated branches that stretch toward wherever. And then I get there, to Boston. Movers delay delivery, so I sleep on an air mattress; it deflates, so then I sleep on the floor. A few days later, I unpack books, elephant figurines, sandals, and hooded sweaters. I check off my list of things I’ll need for cold and wet weather:
Gloves (fingerless, leather and snow)
Patterned rain boots
Poofy (or down) jacket
Rain coat with a hood
Warm socks (both short and long)
Scarf, preferably wool
Sweater (hooded and zip-front)
Thermies (or warm underwear)
Wind-resistant umbrella (added later, after two broken mini umbrellas)
Uggs (completely necessary, though unattractive)
I kept adding to the list with my black ink pen poised, a knife ready to carve into Boston one item at a time.
Weeks after moving in, a ladybug lands on my headboard. I look upon rust-colored leaves, then branches, then icicles that cling. The weather fluctuates. The rain tumbles from the sky. Then sunshine creeps over the Green Monster and onto the Common, where I lie and bathe in the 70-degree heat and smile; the world feels better somehow and I know it.
That is the best summary I can give for my first school year in Boston. I moved to Beantown in August of 2009 and have just been working, loving, procrastinating, worrying, delaying, thinking, laughing, writing, trusting, mistrusting, hating, reading, and living. Life up here has been easy and it has not been easy. Life has been complicated and strangely simple. I look forward to each new day with hesitance and delight, because every day is part of a broader effort to grow up, gain independence, and create a life; because, trust me, I’ve barely been living. I take little risk and am not proud of it.
This blog will not be my life, but will give glimpses and advice (warning: I’m not an expert) on life changes, moving from hot to cold, and just dealing with the everyday struggle of being in a new place. I will attempt to take risks, visit places I’ve never been to, converse with people I may never have wanted to know. I will share my passions, my lyrics, my poems, and favorite quotes. I realize blogs evolve, they change. But for now, I hope to give a little insight into a life of someone who, well, does not live on the edge but wants to give it the old college try.